By: Aly Semigran
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Infection (FIV) in Cats
The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection is a complex retrovirus that causes immunodeficiency disease in domestic cats.
Immunodeficiency is the medical term used to describe the body’s inability to develop a normal immune response. As a result of immunodeficiency, most infected cats do not show symptoms and have normal life expectancy, however they are prone to developing other infections and certain types of cancer.
A retrovirus, such as FIV, inserts a copy of its genetic material into the DNA of a host cell, where it can replicate. FIV is a lentivirus. a specific type of retrovirus that can take months, or even years to incubate, so the virus is slow moving, capable of lying dormant in the body before causing symptoms. “It is in the same class of viruses as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the causative agent of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in people.” (1)
There is no genetic susceptibility for infection, although genetics may play a role in the progression and severity of the disease. The average age is five years at the time of diagnosis, and the likelihood of infection increases with age. “FIV is a transmissible disease that occurs more often in males because of their tendency to be more aggressive, and because they are more likely to roam, thereby increasing their exposure to the virus.” (2)
- Diverse symptoms owing to the decreased ability to develop a normal immune response. Associated immunodeficiencies cannot be distinguished clinically from feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Recurrent minor illnesses, especially with upper respiratory and gastrointestinal signs
- Mild to moderately enlarged lymph nodes
- Inflammation of the gums of the mouth and/or the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth is seen in 25 percent to 50 percent of cases
- Upper respiratory tract disease is seen in 30 percent of cases - inflammation of the nose; inflammation of the moist tissues of the eye; inflammation of the cornea (the clear part of the eye, located in the front of the eyeball); often associated with feline herpes virus and calicivirus infections
- Eye disease - inflammation of the front part of the eye, including the iris; disease of the eye in which the pressure within the eye is increased (glaucoma)
- Long-term (chronic) kidney insufficiency
- Persistent diarrhea seen in 10 percent to 20 percent of cases
- Long-term, nonresponsive, or recurrent infections of the external ear and skin resulting from bacterial or fungal infections
- Fever and wasting - especially in later stage
- Cancer (such as lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops from lymphoid tissue, including lymphocytes, a type of white-blood cell formed in lymphatic tissues throughout the body)
- Nervous system abnormalities - disruption of normal sleep patterns; behavioral changes (such as pacing and aggression); changes in vision and hearing; disorders usually affecting the nerves in the legs and paws.
- "Cat-to-cat transmission; usually through bite wounds and scratches" (3)
- Occasional transmission of the virus at the time of birth
- Sexual transmission is uncommon, although FIV has been detected in semen
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Your doctor will need to rule out bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, and will also test for parasites and tumors before settling on a final diagnosis.
A complete blood profile will be conducted, including:
- a chemical blood profile
- a complete blood count
- and a urinalysis.
Your doctor will need to rule out bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, and will also test for parasites and tumors before settling on a final diagnosis.